Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bible Study ~ James 4:11-5:6

James 4:11-5:6

*Who is it about? Who should we learn more about? Us or God?

*Who is James talking to? (Professing believers, but by their actions they did not look like believers.)

*In verses 4:4-6 James impresses upon his readers the importance and urgency of the decision to follow Christ. He writes with “a stronger conviction of the seriousness of sin than most of us are willing to hold.” Did they want friendship with God or friendship with the world?

*Verses 4-6 emphasizes God's requirements of Christians/ explains what a Christian would look like. He challenges them to search their hearts and know where they are with God. This begins with repentance, and is only achieved through grace from God.

* “James has a problem: his readers are being corrupted by bitter envy and selfish ambition leading to fights and quarrels. He has a goal: to help them learn to live in love and at peace with each other. Therefore he has a prescription for them: repentance.” Rather than judging others, we should remember God's rightful judgment and mercy towards forgiven sinners, and extend the same to others.

* “To what extent is your life directed by the knowledge that Christ is coming back?” Much of our thinking and behavior is shaped by what we can see of present circumstances or past events. Yet Scripture speaks forcefully of Christ's return as a fact that should be directing how we live now. Christians are to be motivated by the certainty of this future event.

*How would your life look differently if you really believed that Jesus was coming back tonight in righteous judgment?

Bible Study credits: Terri Stellrecht

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bible Study~ Philippians 2:1-11

Do Something”   Philippians 2:1-11

Paul is writing from jail - talking about suffering for the sake of the gospel.

He is urging the believers to have unity and love for each other, and especially with God. He is encouraging them to accept suffering and humble circumstances in this life, and to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility to consider others better than yourselves.” (verse 2:3)

In chapter 1, Paul has explained to them that nothing matters in this life more than the gospel of Jesus Christ being made known, and for that sake, it is worthy of enduring anything to know it and have it preached (verse 1:18). He acknowledges that fellowship with Christ is fellowship in His suffering.

Paul points to Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of endurance in the face of suffering. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (verse 2:8) “Therefor God exalted him to the highest place” in heaven. (verse 2:9)

*Who is it about? Us or God? (Biblical teaching should always be about God -His glory,etc.- not us.)

*What is the gospel? (That Jesus Christ, the son of God, took our sins upon himself on the cross as the atonement to satisfy the wrath of God for those who would believe in Him.)

*Why is the most important thing to have the gospel made known?

*What did Felix Baumgartner's “leap of faith” accomplish? What will its results be in eternity? For God's glory?

1 Peter 1:24 “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

*What should Christians strive after (this world's glory or God's glory)?

John 6:28-29

They replied, "What does God want us to do?"

Jesus told them, "This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one he has sent."

*Why would professing Christians tend to not be excited about Heaven? Do you look forward to the glory of Heaven, or do you tend to look to this world to satisfy?
Bible study credits: Terri Stellrecht

Monday, January 21, 2013

To Wrestle Like Jacob

Six below is the predicted high for the day here in Wisconsin. Which means that, at least twice a day, we get to bundle up and brave the elements to care for our menagerie of critters. Enduring a nearly eighty degree difference in temperature, and a frozen water spicket, all for the sake of having some home grown beef in our freezer. The thought of a little corner lot in town with a plastic goldfish floating in a bowl has become appealing and common dinner conversation as of late. Or at least goat farming in the Bahamas. There must be a need for handmade soaps and milking Nubian does somewhere in the Atlantic region.

To pass the time of these cold days we work on home school: adverbs and adjectives, transitive and intransitive verbs, algebra and phonics. Character and self-control are highest on our list of curriculum in four young souls (not to mention my own), and seems to be the subject that constantly demands the most attention. Two teenagers and two middle schoolers in one old farmhouse in January makes for many opportunities of growth, and throw in there the dog that constantly needs in and out, in and out, always just as you've settled nicely into the recliner. Each with our own strenths and weaknesses, as iron sharpens iron, we go on .....

Winter is also a time for quilting. Somehow, I have gotten four baby boy quilts behind in my gift giving this past year. Three tops are ready to be stretched and sewed together, with more quilt patterns running through my brain than I could attempt to sew all year long. It's been nearly two years since I could even think of quilting. I'm not sure if that's the first glimpse of the healing they say comes eventually in grief. If it is I think that's why I resist it so; I never want to be healed of missing my son and thinking this is normal. So I sew between the tears.

And cry over hatching chicks. Chicks that haven't hatched in an incubator in my dining room for nearly those same two years. The pipping hole found me crumpled on the cherry laminate next to the table while the house was quiet and the sun hadn't peeked out yet. Crying as I longed for feather legged chickens like the one's we picked up a week before the accident. Crying because there might not be feathered legs, crying because I'm tired of waiting for eternity to begin.

As I often do when I need solid encouragement of Scripture, I searched for the Desiring God blog, and found Jon Bloom's post on Jacob's time of wrestling with God to be so applicable.

"And what changed him from fearing man to trusting God’s word was prolonged and painful wrestling with God. Sometimes, in your battle with unbelief, your greatest Ally will wrestle you — he might even make you limp — until you’re desperate ... "

I have felt like Jacob lately, battling so hard and then struck where I am most vulnerable. Struck by rejection. Struck by pride. Struck by sick goats. Struck by grief, every morning being greeted with the fresh reality that my son is not here. Struck by complacency, and apathy, and the mind boggling, numbing, stuffing inability to discern what really matters. Struck where it hurts the most, because where it hurts the most is where I need to be sanctified the most.

There is so much of "me" left. The pain reveals where Christ is not yet ruling. Where I still expect something else to satisfy. Where I still refuse for Jesus to be enough.

After I've cried the tears, and realized the beauty of the battle is that the end result will eventually produce a harvest of righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:11), I raise my hands in defeat. I can no longer struggle as Jacob did and demand more from God. My strength has been drained from the energy it has taken to resist Him thus far.

Instead, I accept the blessing that has already been given: the blessing of suffering.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bible Study ~ James 3-4

James 3-4

*"James has been revealing the sins of the people, now he presents them with an important and urgent choice: friendship with the God or friendship with the world."

- What wisdom in 3:17-18 do you really admire? Would your life be described more accurately by verse 17 or 18? Do you want God or the world?

* “The seriousness of the alternatives is made clear with shocking terms: you adulterous people, hatred toward God, an enemy of God (James 4:4)."

*Who is he addressing? Christians or non-Christians?
“It all sounds so offensive that we are tempted to think he must be addressing non-Christians rhetorically.

Here, however, he must be addressing his Christian readers, for his immediate message is still too closely connected to the hypocritical wisdom and the fights and quarrels among you from 3:13 and 4:1. But he is again warning those who call themselves Christians that they may be false Christians who are really enemies of God. James simply writes with a stronger conviction of the seriousness of sin than most of us are willing to hold. In fact he writes with a sense of moral outrage.” - Search your hearts.

*"Altogether, the paragraph of 4:4-6 emphasizes God's requirement of Christians: "a total, unreserved, unwavering allegiance" to God rather than to the world. It equally emphasizes that this requirement is not an achievement by which the proud can earn God's friendship, for the call to devotion is based on God's extension of grace to the humble. " Explain:

*"James has a problem: his readers are being corrupted by bitter envy and selfish ambition leading to fights and quarrels. He has a goal: to help them learn to live in love and at peace with each other. Therefore he has a prescription for them: repentance.”

*"Along with the presentation of this choice comes a pair of promises to encourage James's readers. The devil . . . will flee from you (verse 7-10). Meanwhile, God . . . will come near to you.”

*Conclusion: Our lives reveal our hearts. They reveal if the Holy Spirit is working in our souls or not. Salvation cannot be attained through works, but God grants it through grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ; it is evidenced through our actions. When we are granted repentance, and resist the devil, we are allowed to come near to God, and He in turn comes near to us.

With commentary from:
Bible Study credits: Terri Stellrecht

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reading Between the Lines

An hour and a half in bed, refusing to be real. Too lazy to get my bum down on my knees to bow before my Creator, and instead settling for prayers full of apathy. Tears cried into my coffee cup until it is too cold to drink. Repentance and the first two chapters of Hebrews later, plus several cross references, before the peace settles.

Jesus, the One I have never seen with my eyes yet my soul has never not known, the radiance of God's glory, the Maker of the heavens. The Savior, who was made a little lower than the angels for a time until He would be crowned with glory and everything would be put under his feet, was perfected by suffering under the hand of his Father, that He might become the perfect atonement for sinful man.

I am not good at enduring. Perseverance does not thrill me. Running, controlling, knowing now, hurry up would be better. Scripture puts my unspoken, scattered, and pain-filled emotions into perspective.

Because He himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:18

The overflowing of honesty spills out when I read between the lines: I suffer when I am tempted to be held in bondage by others' approval and allow them control over me, rather than walking in God's ways. The cords of that bondage are strong in a current situation. Chokingly strong. Maybe they choke because they reveal my hard heart; maybe it's not choking but gagging over sin that I don't want revealed. Or maybe it is a blaring warning sign that I can't clearly decipher through the masquerading words of truth.

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1

My eyes have not been fixed on Jesus lately in this situation, I have instead let them stray. I have chosen to wallow in the pain of the seen, rather than looking to the High Priest whom I confess.

{Jesus} was faithful to the one who appointed him.” Hebrews 3:2a

What did Jesus do in His suffering? He was faithful to the Father, the very one who found it fitting to allow His suffering. For the greater glory, for the joy of being seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, for the throne that would be ruled with a scepter of righteousness and could only be conquered through the death of a perfect sacrifice, to ransom His own, to glorify His Father, He focused his eyes on eternity.

I will put my trust in Him.” Hebrews 2:13b/Isaiah 8:17

Jesus put His trust in God. What a simple concept. To merely trust Jesus until I see Him face to face. To endure what He calls me to endure. To do it willingly as I attempt to train my heart to do the same and look forward to that glory. To fall on grace alone, accepting the proficiency of the solitary power of the Holy Spirit, and continuing to disregard any of my attempts of accomplishing His finished work of salvation on my own. To praise God for failure, so that mercy can be realized.

A Returning

Words have returned, what a refreshing welcome to lay down the consuming thoughts that insist on swirling in my brain, to give them a place to reside and rest, to relieve my heart from carrying them. The camera has hardly been thought of lately, maybe God will choose to restore that soon, too.

I have discovered recently that as hard as enduring the physical separation of grief is, the unknowing of heaven itself is almost as difficult.

“Where are you, Trent?” The first words whispered while I stood next to that emergency room bed nearly two years ago. The joke between my son and I for months prior to the accident. The thoughts that won't be settled in my mind until I see paradise firsthand.

Heaven, where the glory of God is seen in its full. Where we will be welcomed onto the throne with Jesus himself. Where every tear, and every sin, will be wiped away. Where multitudes of angels dwell. Where Paul saw the inexpressible things that man is not permitted to tell. Where martyrs under the alter are crying out, “How long, Oh Lord?” The same plea I cry every morning.

The slow insanity of grief comes in the everyday trickling of “normal.” Trying to make this world the normal when Scripture says it is the temporary. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that Jesus shared in our humanity, the children of flesh and blood, so that by His death the power of death- that is, the devil- would be destroyed. He freed His children from the very fear of death; a fear that holds us in slavery.

To think, this very day, that my son is before this Savior while I am consumed by living here. The mortgage has to be paid, there are three meals to plan and prepare again, farm chores to be attended to, little people to love, all while so much pain and suffering is evident all around me, lost souls are everywhere, eternities are looming.

The Gift

After Trent's accident, we chose for him to become an organ donor. Recovering what they could, the doctors would attempt to use the opportunity to restore somebody else's broken body. I have been crying for days after receiving the news of the reality of what this gift meant: sight was restored to two individuals whom we will probably never know this side of heaven. Our son's corneas, which once saw the beauty of his world, now see for others. The radio is blaring, "No more sorrows, no more tears." I am ready and waiting for That Day.

The story is here

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bible Study ~ James 3:1-12

James 3:1-12

*Who is it (sermon/Scripture passage) about? Us or God? Explain: How is it about God? (Points to the gospel: the revealing of our sin as evidenced through our speech; revealing again our need for God's perfect son, Jesus, who died for sinful man in obedience and to the glory of God.)

*The tongue is the revealing of our soul. James 3:9-12

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

- Jesus said that the mouth speaks what is coming out of our hearts, what does that mean? (Luke 6:45)

- How important are the things that we say according to the Bible?

We will miss the point if we do not recognize the continuity of thought between the previous section and this one. James has just given his readers a sobering picture: the certainty of judgment and their vulnerability in that judgment because of the terrible evil they do with their speech. It leads to one of the most fundamental questions of life anyone must face: How can I hope to purify my behavior (such as my speech) when it flows from my corrupt inward character? How can my heart be changed from its selfishness? Is there any hope?”

*What does your tongue reveal about your soul?
Changing our tongue/speech does not change our salvation, rather it is a revealing of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (John 14:23; 1 John 5:3; Psalm 119:4)
With commentery from:
Bible Study credits: Terri Stellrecht

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

When Hope Survives

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect,
that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus,
with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:10

I wonder, if we had one taste, one glimpse, one second of that eternal glory, how would we live differently? I wondered, too, when I read that verse this morning if Paul ever endured the heart-wrenching pain of grief for the sake of the gospel. It's easy to lump grief into the "everything" category of that one sentence; living it is harder.

To "endure everything for the sake of the elect." Trying desperately to grasp the depth of that statement, and find hope in it, I realized that suffering becomes sweeter when I remember that now John has an eternal glory to look forward to because God opened his eyes and has allowed him to lead his family towards Christ; how Anne and Traci's kids have mothers who have become mightier prayer warriors on behalf of their children's souls; how Sue, and Gwen and countless other mothers have found comfort and a refreshing of God's promises through our brokenness.

It's ironic, I guess, as even hope has been so hard to come by lately that I would be working on a devotional book called "When Hope Survives." God seems to be stripping me bare, so only hope in Him survives, then and only then, will I truly have something to say. There is so much of "me" left that needs to be removed. But I hold God at arms length- tired of the hurt, the tears, the pain of revealing.

Martin Luther's commentary on Romans 8:26 cut deep. "The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

"These are prayers which no man can describe by words, and which no one can understand except God alone. The groanings are so great that only God can rightly regard and appreciate them: as we read in Psalm 38:9: "All my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee." It is not an evil sign, but indeed the very best, if upon our petitions the very opposite happens to us. Conversely, it is not a good sign if everything is granted to us for which we pray.

The reason for this is the following: God's counsel and will tower high above our own counsel and will, as we read in Isaiah 55:8-9, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts." Hence, when we ask anything of God and He begins to hear us, He so often goes counter to our petitions that we imagine He is more angry with us now than before we prayed, and that He intends not to grant us our requests at all. All this God does, because it is His way to first destroy and annihilate what is in us - (our own wisdom and will) - before He gives us His gifts; for so we read in 1 Samuel 2:6: "The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up." Through this most gracious counsel He makes us fit for His gifts and works. Only then are we qualified for His works and counsels when our own plans have been demolished and our own works are destroyed and we have become purely passive in our relation to Him.

The proud (unbelievers) desire to be like God. They want to place their thoughts not under God, but next to His, just as though they were perfect (as God is). But that is much less possible than for the clay to tell the potter into what shape he should form it. So we read in Isaiah 64:8: "O Lord,Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand." But those who have the Holy Spirit do not despair but have faith when they see that the very opposite of what they asked for happens to them. The work of God must remain hidden in any other form than that which contradicts our thinking and understanding. Thus God permitted St. Augustine to fall deeper and deeper into error, despite the prayers of his mother, in order to grant her much more in the end than she had asked. This He does with all His saints." (Commentary on Romans, Martin Luther, translated by J. Theodore Mueller, Pg. 126-127)

I sit here and cry my river of tears another morning. But finally, this morning, they come from a deeper place. A place where they are not the overflow from the high barricade that I have built around my wounded soul, but where they pour out from the demolishing of falsehood which means that God has broken through. The tears are the beginning of true hope, true endurance, and true trust in God.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13